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November 1, 2005

Walk a Mile pairs King County policymakers with former foster youth

A pilot project in participatory democracy will begin later this month in King County, pairing local policymakers with young adults who were once in foster care and are now existing on minimum-wage incomes.

The pilot project will kick off Nov. 14 and is part of the Walk a Mile program, which was founded more than a decade ago by the University of Washington’s Northwest Institute for Children and Families. The institute is part of the UW’s School of Social Work.

All King County legislators, city and county council members, juvenile judges and the mayor of Seattle have been invited to participate, according to Sierra Rowe, who is coordinator of the project.

So far nine have agreed to participate. They are state Sens. Karen Keiser, and Jeanne Kohl-Wells; Reps. Mary Lou Dickerson, Ruth Kagi, Jim McIntire and Eric Pettigrew; Seattle City Council member David Della; Majken Ryherd, chief of staff for Speaker of the House Frank Chopp; and Greg Williamson, policy coordinator at the office of the superintendent of public instruction.

Walk a Mile was founded in 1994 by Natasha Grossman of the Northwest Institute for Children and Families and originally matched policymakers with low-income constituents. The program was created to build relationships between those who create policies and those affected by those policies by having people “walk a mile in each other’s shoes.” Since it was founded, the project has joined more than 1,300 pairs of low-income families and policymakers and has trained and provided technical assistance to organizations in 30 states on how to successfully coordinate similar projects.

The new Walk a Mile project will extend over four weeks with each pair of participants speaking on the phone at least weekly and participating in two in-person activities, one from a typical day in the life of the former foster care youth and one from that of the policymaker. In addition, each policymaker is asked to live for a month on the same estimated minimum-wage budget as his or her foster youth partner.

The project will provide policymakers with an opportunity to better understand the foster care system and the challenges that face young people who are forced to be on their own by age 18, according to Rowe. In addition, former foster children have the chance to become involved in the policymaking process.

The project will extend from Nov. 14 to Dec. 14.

Endorsing and partner agencies for the project are Lutheran Community Services NW, Seattle League of Women Voters, Casey Family Programs, The Mockingbird Society, Church Council of Greater Seattle, Families for Kids, Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets, Treehouse, Fremont Public Association, New Horizons Ministries, YMCA Transitions, Youth Care, and Linn, Schisel, and DeMarco.

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For more information, contact Rowe at (206) 683-6979 or srowe@u.washington.edu  or Grossman at (206) 229-5399 or natasha@u.washington.edu